Category Archives: Starting Homeschooling

Do I Need to Be ‘Smart’ to Homeschool?

A number of times, parents, who are thinking about homeschooling, have asked me, “Do you need to be ‘smart’ to homeschool?”.   Or they’ll express concern that they feel like they aren’t smart enough to homeschool their children, particularly during the highschool years.   How do I respond to this question or comment?  Well, I tell them the truth.  “No, you don’t need to be smart, but, you have to be willing to read and learn”.

People often reply, “Yeah, but you’re a qualified teacher” and I have to remind them that even teachers start out knowing very little about the topics they teach, particularly in the primary school years where teachers are expected to teach all different subjects and topics.  Every time a teacher is moved to a different grade level, they have to start fresh.  They have to look at the National Curriculum to determine what they have to teach.  They have to make choices about topics to teach and books to use.  Most teachers need to find information about the new topics they are teaching.  They have to refer to a book, website or mentor to find out how to teach new Math topics.  They have to research the History and Science they need to teach.  They aren’t taught all that content at university and they certainly don’t know everything.   Parents who are willing to put in the time and effort can do the same things.

For most things, we can learn right alongside our children.  To begin with, we don’t need to know anything about the topics we want to teach.  We just need to be prepared to roll up our sleeve and do a little research.  For example, if I wanted to teach about world explorers and didn’t know any world explorers, I would simply google “list of greatest world explorers”.  Then I would select some explorers to study.  You might need to do a little googling to help with your selection process.  Using my list of chosen explorers, I would then begin a search for resources.  I usually start online with my local library, typing in the explorers’ names and borrowing related books and dvds.  Then I use Google to help me hunt for ideas – book titles, dvd titles, online videos, activity ideas and good quality free resources.  The hardest part of this search is usually narrowing down the options.  Personally, I like to find one or two excellent books, at least one video and perhaps an activity.  Others might have different preferences.  Often I choose to purchase a book or dvd, when I find a title that looks amazing and that I can’t borrow.  But that’s also a personal choice.  With the explorers chosen and the resources collected, the next step is to decide how you want to teach it.  This looks different in different homes.  Some people like to pre-read or pre-view all of their resources and prepare questions and activities based on the information.  Others like to do a some preparations but nothing too detailed.  Personally, I like to select the most enticing book and dive right in with my children.  I suppose, instead of ‘teacher’, you could call me the ‘lead learner’.  There are often times when I know as little about a topic as my children when we first begin reading.  But, that’s okay.  I’m not attempting to impart knowledge from my head to theirs.  The resources I’ve chosen will provide the information, and often the activities and questions as well.  My role is to choose the paths, provide the resources, and join them on the learning journey.

As another example, I also teach my boys Latin, yet, I don’t know Latin.  However, I do know how to do a google search.  So, back when we were first starting, I researched all the different Latin options that homeschoolers seemed to use.  I selected one that appealed and ordered it.  When it arrived, I spent some time looking over the product and deciding how to proceed.  Since it was designed for beginning students, particularly children, I knew that I could understand the requirements enough to explain one lesson at a time.  I also discovered that there were some lessons that required a little thought and I simply couldn’t come to the lesson without first reading through the lesson.  So, I decided to stay at least one lesson ahead of my students.  As the years have progressed, the requirements are still the same.  I still only need to know one lesson more than my boys.  Admittedly, once or twice I’ve had to look up terms that the text assumed I’d understand, but, with a little time and effort, those obstacles were quickly overcome.  If you are prepared to do the same, you can teach many things.  Just as importantly, you’ll learning many new things.  I’ve learned so much on this homeschooling journey.  Things school never taught me.

Of course, you don’t have to teach everything yourself.  You could employ someone to teach a subject that is outside your skill area.  Most people do this for Music.  Some parents make arrangements with other parents to share their talents.  If one mother is skilled in Language and another in Math, they might arrange to teach each others’ children.  There are also online classes and video based curriculums that do the teaching for you.  Perhaps hubby or another family member could help teach a subject.  Plus, homeschool curriculums are designed with the knowledge that most parents aren’t qualified teachers.  Oh and a worked-solution book for your Math text can often save the day.  So there is a lot of support available and even more if you are prepared to be flexible and creative.  Teaching doesn’t have to fall solely on your shoulders.

Being ‘smart’ or ‘qualified’ might make some things easier and give you more confidence to quickly jump into the process, but, even for these people, teaching requires time and effort, and most importantly, a willingness to learn new things.  We all have these things to offer, if we are willing to spend them in pursuit of the homeschool journey.

And, as many homeschoolers will tell you, while you don’t need to be smart to start, you will definitely be smarter when you end.



How Best to Start Homeschooling

A response to a new homeschooler looking for advice on how best to start homeschooling:

I think the very first thing we need to do when we start homeschooling is to ask ourselves why we are homeschooling. It seems like a silly place to start but I’ve learned that this question is foundational. If we don’t have a rock solid reason, we tend to easily fall prey to uncertainty, naysayers, and worse still, bouncing between school and homeschool.   For myself, we originally chose homeschooling because, as teachers, we knew firsthand that the academic standards in schools were poor and that the social situations were abominable. Plus we didn’t want to give our precious children over to strangers for most of their young life.   Based on this, we closed the door on school enrolment. To put our children into school now, we would be willfully deciding to send them away, into a place that we knew was academically and socially inferior. Knowing our reasons for homeschooling, really helps us in those moments when we are panicked over whether we were doing the right thing or not. Over the years our reasons for homeschooling have changed – we have learned what wonderful places homes can be for educating children – so now there are even more reasons why our way forward is homeschooling.

The next decision that needs to be made is whether you will enrol your children in a Distance Education school or register with your state government. Where I live, in QLD, there are quite a few Distance Education options and they are very popular amongst new homeschoolers, who feel overwhelmed by taking on the full responsibility of their children’s education. Distance Education schools do provide a lot of support – determining what you teach, when and with what resources – but, as with any school, you will have to forgo a lot of freedom and choice. The other option is to retain full responsibility and register your intention to homeschool with your state authority. Each state has various requirements so you’ll have to make yourself familiar with these. I always recommend that people read them for themselves, rather than rely on others’ summaries, as it’s vital to properly understand your homeschooling rights and responsibilities.

Once you’ve made the decision to register as a homeschooler, imagine what you want your homeschool to look like. Brainstorm your ideal learning situations. Ignore practicalities for the moment and just dream, as often these imaginings get to the heart of what you believe and desire for your children. This also helps you to start breaking loose from school notions. Too often we copy ideas about education from the only example we know – school – the institution we are abandoning because it doesn’t nourish our children. So ask yourself lots of questions and jot down your thoughts. What are your aspirations for your children? What are your children’s aspirations for themselves? What do you want your children to know? What do they want to know? What do they need to learn? How do you think children learn best? (Ignore the ‘experts’, they aren’t doing too well with the millions of children they already have in their care). Do you want to use textbooks in your homeschool? Or would you rather explore other options, like reading ‘real’ books, watching videos, participating in real life activities and hands on projects? Or would you feel more comfortable with a mixture of these? What are your children’s interests and strengths? Where do your children need more support? What do you imagine your role is in your homeschooling? What subjects would you like to teach? What subjects does the government say you must teach? Do you want to teach subject by subject or would you rather a more holistic approach? Start with you own ideals, rather than what you think education ‘must’ be. Yes, you can learn from others, but don’t copy them. Start where you are comfortable and grow from there. Adjust according to your children’s responses. They are the best indicators of whether you are on the right track.

Don’t focus on materials and your schoolroom when you are starting out. Just about everyone makes this mistake. No, it’s not a fatal mistake, thankfully, but it is a distraction. We don’t need a pretty schoolroom, chock full of school-like materials. Your money and time are better spent elsewhere. If you really want to buy something for your homeschool, start by buying bookshelves and then filling them with books that the kids want to read.  Then take them to the library to sign up for library cards, and fill up the rest of your shelves with free books. Yes, you might want a few textbooks and curriculums to get started with, but don’t throw too much money at them straight away. Get to know your learners first so you can better match the resources to them. New homeschoolers tend to waste a lot of money in their first year, buying things they’ll hardly use and will later regret.

As homeschoolers, you need a homeschool community of like-minded people, who you can share with, so make sure to work on making these connections for yourself and your children. It’s not an easy process and it won’t happen overnight. Be patient. You won’t necessarily find like-minded homeschoolers in every suburb; you might not even find them on your side of town, so think more broadly and be prepared to travel to meet people. (Also remember that friends for your children don’t need to be the same age and gender as your children). Be courageous and invite people over for a cup of tea or arrange a park play. It’s not a comfortable process – we’ve all had the experience of walking through the park asking strangers if they are the homeschooling group we’ve come to meet – but it’s worth the effort. On this homeschooling journey, you need fellow travelers to support you.

In the same breath, I would advise that you stay home a lot and don’t overfill your weeks with outside-the-home activities. Your first instinct as a new homeschooler, particularly if you’ve just withdrawn your children from school, will be to join co-ops and classes. There is nothing wrong with these activities at all, provided you are enrolling for the right reasons. Too often new homeschoolers enrol in everything on offer because they feel like their children are somehow ‘missing out’ by not attending school. In the early years, I fell into this over-compensating trap, and attended nearly every homeschooling event on offer from one side of the city to the other. All I achieved was an empty pocket and fuel tank, tired children who had little time for their real interests, and a grumpy mum who knew how little real learning had happened during the week. But on the surface, it looked like we were doing a lot, (and we were!) but it added very little of real value to our lives. Nowadays, we only participate in activities that we really want to do, and even then we are very selective and limit the number of outings in our week. Yes, at first, it feels really hard to stay home, day in and out. Our society encourages us to run around like a hamster on their wheel and we start this training as soon as children enter school (and nowadays even earlier with children in child care). So, when we bring our children home, both parent and child have to learn how to be comfortable and fulfilled at home. And the only way to do this is to spend some time at home growing to love it…and you will one day. It just takes time and practise.

The one thing I wished I’d known, at the beginning of our homeschooling journey, is the immense value of reading aloud. I’ve always known it was important, but I didn’t realise how vital it was. Nowadays we read aloud for a lot (my hubby is reading aloud to my boys as I type this) but I know that I’ve wasted many of our earlier read aloud opportunities and my heart breaks over it. If I could encourage you to do only one thing in your homeschooling journey, it would be to read aloud to your children as much as possible and for as many years as possible. Reading aloud isn’t just for our toddlers and preschoolers; it’s for all ages. Sadly, our school aged children (particularly if they’ve been to school) may reject our attempts to read to them, because they’ve been led to believe that reading aloud is just for babies. But if we can get to them early and help them fall in love with being read to, we may be able to turn around this mistaken notion. As you enter this world of homeschooling, I can tell you now that your world is about to be filled by books and it’s a wonderful thing.

And, finally, I would encourage you to become an active learner alongside your children. Don’t just prop the kids up in front of textbooks or worksheets and only return with your red pen to mark their work. That’s ‘playing teacher’ and not homeschooling. If you want your children to wholeheartedly embrace learning, then you have to embrace it first. Rather than standing on the sidelines and giving instructions, jump in with them and model how to learn. That’s the best way to homeschool.

Good luck on your homeschooling journey. It’s worth the effort. 🙂


Transitioning From School to Homeschool

Removing children from regular school and homeschooling can be a tough road.  It can depend on whether the children are keen to homeschool or whether it’s all mum and dad’s idea.  Even the children who are on board with the change can struggle with it at times.  It’s a big shift for everyone and I think it’s important to realise that there will be some uphill stretches.  When you encounter a rough patch, it doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision or that you are doing anything wrong.  It’s just part and parcel of the change.  Perhaps the best thing to do to help with the transition is to expect to deal with emotional upheavals here and there.  You’ll hear all sorts of complaints:
“My teacher never did it this way”
“I’m bored”
“I miss my friends”

Homeschooling is going to be so different for them and it’s going to take time for them to adjust.  It’s perfectly normal.  So be ready to forgive yourself plenty of times and spread the grace to the kids when they act out too.
While you are finding your groove, you could keep a few distractions up your sleeve for difficult periods.
*Have some excursion ideas the kids might like, to get you out of the house a bit during the early weeks and months.
*Make sure to have plenty of social opportunities.  School children who are now homeschooling feel the loss of all the people around them during the day pretty acutely.
*Plan some activities they particularly enjoy – art, science, reading…whatever it happens to be.
*Little things like new art supplies, notebooks or a spiffy pen can even be a pleasant distraction for the day.
*Maybe a reward for the end of the school day
Whatever appeals to your children and releases a little tension and keeps you moving forward.
You could also include your children in some of the decision making and planning.  Ask them if there’s something they’d like to study.  Allow them to choose the order of things to study.  Offer some choices of curriculum that you are tossing up between and allow them choose.  Let them be involved and allow them to have some ownership of the new journey.
Sometimes you might just need to take the day off and go to the park or the shops or whatever recharges your batteries.  Obviously school work still has to get done but a day here and isn’t a big drama. Your emotional health is just as important as academics.
Also make sure you find some local homeschooling contacts.  A support system and homeschooling friends are really important for mum and the kids.  Just having people to chat and vent with is sometimes all the boost you need to get you through another week.  Plus they can remind you that those bad days are as normal as the good days.
Don’t let me paint too gloomy a picture for you though.  Homeschooling is the best thing since sliced bread.  Of course I could be biased.  🙂  However, I just think it’s important to be realistic and prepared.  When homeschoolers make everything out to be just peachy and ideal, it makes newcomers, who experience a normal bad homeschooling day, feel so dejected.  But if you are prepared for the bumps in the road, then I think you’ll be more easily about to spot the days when your cruising and hitting the highs.  Make sure to notice and appreciate those moments and days.  They are the real gems that will keep you moving forward on this new and wonderful journey.

Remember – All the best things are worth working for and none of them come without trials and hiccups.




Homeschooling is Not Easy

Too often homeschoolers overemphasise that anyone can homeschool, which is true, however in our enthusiasm we underplay the work involved in homeschooling, and I think this sets new homeschoolers up with unrealistic expectations, that could lead them to put their children back in school.

Yes homeschooling can be wonderful but there is a lot of effort and work that goes into achieving those rewards. In fact, life would be a whole lot easier, but less amazing, if the kids were at school.

What should new homeschoolers be aware of, before pulling the kids out of school?

–  You’ll be with your children a LOT.   This is a great thing, however it takes time for all involved to get used to the new situation, particularly if you are used to being apart for large chunks of time each day.  A challenging start, with pot holes along the way, is highly probable.  Only time together will improve your relationship with each other.

–  You’ll have to spend a LOT of time reading and researching.  Enriched homeschooling, generally, doesn’t come gift wrapped in an easy to use box.  It’s more complex than that.  Sure there are ‘boxed curriculums’ you can purchase from the U.S.  But what if it doesn’t suit your children, your state legislation, your budget, your teaching style, or what happens if you don’t like the curriculum.  And does it do more than just ‘tick the boxes’.  As a homeschooler, you have to be prepared to research different curriculum and put together something that works for your family.  It’s the role you are taking on when you start homeschooling.

–  You’ll spend a good chunk of your day teaching.  Realistically, two hours isn’t enough, if your children are beyond K-2.  Spending your day teaching can be difficult when you are used to spending your time differently.  As a homeschooler, your priorities have to change and it can be a stretch at first.  It takes a while to shuffle things around in your life, eliminate some things, and find the workable balance for your family.

–  You’ll be spending a bit of money on resources.  Probably no where near as much as if your children were in private schools, but over the year the costs can add up, what with textbooks, curriculums, books to read, art resources, printer ink, classes, online subscriptions and whatever else comes along in the year.  Yes, I know homeschoolers always say that you can spend as little or as much on education as you choose.  But to be totally honest, homeschooling is much easier and usually more enjoyable, with a little bit of money to play with.

–  You need to put time and effort into socialising.  For most homeschoolers, who’ve been doing it a while, they need to do the opposite, which is why we often write blog posts about not worrying about socialisation.  Our week fills up fast with offers to ‘catch up and play’ and we have to turn people away to make sure some school work happens too.  But new homeschoolers do have to work at providing regular social opportunities for their children or they”ll quickly begin to feel isolated.  It takes time to build a social group for yourself and your children, and, in order for it to occur, you have to regularly get out into the homeschooling community.

–  You will need to stretch and do things that school mums don’t have to.  We walk an unpaved path that few people choose to walk.  It’s not easy.  Things that are simple for school mums, are not so for us.  For example, in schools the dentist bus turns up each year and schools mums don’t have to give it much thought.  But homeschool mums have to find out if they are entitled to school dental services (they are, by the way), the process they have to work through to get an appointment, make time to get to the appointment, sometimes deal with anti-homeschooling types in the system or opt to pay for their own dentist.  There are lots of these kinds of examples. Really, they are no big deal, once you’re used to dealing with bureaucracy, but at first it can be quite a minefield to work through.  New homeschoolers need to be prepared to live life as a minority.

Now don’t get me wrong, homeschooling is not a heavy yoke to bear.  There is no other form of education that I would even consider.  But I approached this challenge knowing that I would have to be prepared to work hard to get the results that I desired.

I’ve  shared this post because I believe we have to be careful about how rosy and simple we make homeschooling appear to prospective homeschoolers.  I meet a lot of new homeschoolers and I’m finding, more and more, that they are coming to homeschooling with a skewed view of what we do, and, as a result, seem less prepared for the task ahead.    Homeschooling, isn’t a magic pill answer that can be simply popped.  Choosing this path takes more work and effort than choosing the school path.  We take education fully into our own hands and, with that decision, comes a huge responsibility and an ongoing workload.

Yes, I do love homeschooling and I do encourage other parents to homeschool.  It’s something I’m very passionate about.  However, we have to remember that we aren’t just ‘playing school’.  Homeschooling is a huge decision and is in no way an ‘easy’ thing to do.  Having said that, homeschooling IS a possible path for those realistically prepared to make it work, and I encourage people to consider this amazing educational task.

Remember, nothing of worth is ever easy.  🙂


Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Homeschooling Thoughts, Starting Homeschooling